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Wednesday, March 24, 1999 Published at 14:07 GMT


Belgrade bans independent B92

With the crisis over Kosovo reaching a climax, the Yugoslav authorities have once again shown signs of cracking down on the country's independent media by forcing the independent Belgrade radio station B92 off the air.

Morand Fachot of the BBC Monitoring's Foreign Media has the details: Ministry of Telecommunications officials and policemen entered B92 premises early on 24th March and ordered a " temporary suspension" of B92 broadcasts claiming that the power of the station's transmitter was over its authorized level.

They also ordered B92 journalists not to use their mobile phones, answer telephone calls or use the computers in the studio, and took B92 editor in chief Veran Matic in for questioning.

Within a few hours B92 was back on air via satellite and the Internet (www.b92.net).

This is not the first time B92 has been closed down by the Yugoslav authorities and it was following a similar incident in November 1996 that the station decided to launch its Internet audio service and text to defeat the media blockade.

At the time the US international broadcaster VOA launched "a solidarity project" with B92 by carrying its news everyday.

To improve its reach B92 sends its audio signal to London where it is uplinked to a Eutelsat satellite at 13 degrees east .

A constant irritant for the regime B92 was launched in 1989, its programming is based around music and news, and it is one of the three most popular station in Belgrade.

The station's independence has been demonstrated over the years starting with its coverage of protest actions against the manipulation of state-run media in March 1991, of the war in Bosnia-Hercegovina in 1991 and 1992, and of students protests in 1992.

The station has been a constant irritant for the authorities in Belgrade which have taken a number of actions against it over the years, ranging from jamming, technical problems or the allocation of frequencies.

In May 1998 the Serbian prime minister, Mirko Marjanovic, accused B92 of being a foreign station.

B92 has also expanded its media reach by becoming an Internet service provider through its OpenNet service connecting NGOs, independent media and universities.

Independent electronic media in Yugoslavia B92 is not the only independent radio station in Yugoslavia, it belongs to the Association of Independent Electronic Media (ANEM) which now groups over 30 radio stations as well as television channels.

In view of the current situation the authorities in Belgrade are likely to crack down on these too.

A European Commission spokesman announced today that the European Union Radio and Television Agency would retransmit programmes by independent Yugoslav broadcasters via satellite in response to the ban on broadcasts by B92.

Other operators are reported to have been asked to carry B92 signal on their satellite link.

Key role for foreign broadcasts to Yugoslavia It is to be expected that the authorities in Belgrade will this time make sure that their ban on B92's broadcasts, and possibly on that of other independent broadcasters, will be more effective than the previous one in November 1996.

Furthermore as access to the Internet is still rather limited Yugoslavs are likely to tune in to stations from neighbouring countries and to international stations broadcasting via satellite, shortwave and mediumwave.

International broadcasters may increase the volume of their programmes to the region as they normally do at times of crisis.

BBC Monitoring (http://www.monitor.bbc.co.uk), based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the Internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.



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